Barghouti was arrested in 2002 and charged in 26 deaths and belonging to a terrorist organization. Two years later he was convicted for the death of four Israelis and a Greek monk, while the other 21 counts were dropped. Although no proof was brought showing his direct involvement in the killings, an Israeli court convicted him based on his leadership role of militias affiliated with his Fatah political party and sentenced him to five life terms.
The image of Barghouti in Israeli custody with handcuffed arms raised above his head dots the West Bank. At the Qalandiya checkpoint, where Palestinians frequently sit for hours waiting to cross into Israel, there is a huge portrait of him on the separation wall next to that of the late Palestinian icon Yasser Arafat – the guerrilla fighter turned president of the internationally backed Palestinian Authority (PA).
Arafat's successor, Mr. Abbas, has neither the charisma nor the military record of Arafat – and certainly less popular backing. He has spent most of his life outside of the West Bank, living in several Arab countries and earning a PhD at a university in Moscow. Barghouti, by contrast, is from the village of Kobar, just eight miles outside Ramallah.
“Barghouti is from our homeland,” says Jamil Anton, sitting in his electronics shop in Ramallah. "Abbas came from outside."
Older Palestinians not as enthralled
Many Palestinians in Ramallah recall personal encounters with Barghouti and consider him free of the sort of corruption allegations that have plagued PA officials, both under Abbas and Arafat – even though he served in the Palestinian parliament for a few years. Ahead of parliamentary elections in 2005, Barghouti released a statement from prison promising an end to corruption his Fatah movement.